By Jessie Forand
Published June 4, 2008
3,756 miles. Two months. About 25 pounds. These are the result of a journey taken by Rick Hubbard. From mid-March through mid-May, Hubbard rode a bicycle from San Diego, Calif., back home to South Burlington.
Oh, and one other important fact — he is 66 years old.
In celebration of his retirement, the former attorney “pumped up the health part” and decided to ride his bike across the country: “I’m old enough, at 66, to clearly be in ‘use it or lose it’ territory,” Hubbard said. “Better do it while I still can."
“I had incentive to beat it,” he said: His “sweetie,” Sally Howe, was leaving on a trip of her own to meet up with family and then former classmates in Spain, beginning May 18. He described himself as “like a horse headed for the barn.”
Hubbard flew to San Diego and began his venture March 13. The reasoning behind his departure location was twofold. First, he partially followed the Southern Tier route provided by Adventure Cycling, leading from San Diego to St. Augustine, Fla., although he only stayed with the trail until just before the Mississippi River and then forged his own path.
The second reason: “It’s winter, and there are no options anywhere else,” Hubbard said.
Having “held it down” at first, Hubbard’s daily travel, excluding the first two weeks of the trip, was 75 to 90 miles per day. He took it a bit easier at first because he had suffered from an injury in the recent past and had been training with cross-country skiing as opposed to biking during the winter.
Fourteen states were covered in the journey, including Texas, Tennessee and Pennsylvania. Hubbard crossed back into the Green Mountain State near Lake George, N.Y., and was met by Howe in Vergennes for a meal and an accompanied final stretch home.
Hubbard took a unique and ultimately very enjoyable approach to finding shelter along the way. He used the Warm Showers Organization, a Web site that connects cyclists — those on trips with those willing to host visitors for an overnight stay and, yes, a warm shower. The No. 1 rule of the site is that if people wish to find a host home, they in turn must open their home to others, so Hubbard’s home is listed on a map of hosts around the globe, available to those in need of a temporary shelter.
“I tried to pick people that were a little older,” he said, “a little closer to my age.”
His hosts included another retired attorney, a younger couple who met through biking, a British man and his Swedish wife, a doctor, and a minister. In addition to Warm Showers homes, Hubbard stayed in motels, with relatives, and even an old hiking buddy.
“It really was the highlight of the trip,” Hubbard said of his accommodations. “It broke up being on my own a lot.”
With only himself and a bike, Hubbard just brought the necessities. He had bike shorts, a fleece, Day-Glo protective gear, sneakers, a pair of running shoes (for when he was off the bike), a pair of zip-off khaki pants, one polo shirt and a sleeping bag and tent for emergencies, which he needed once while in New Mexico.
On this occasion, Hubbard found himself in a tiny town with no motel in sight.
“I ended up in my tent, on gravel, behind a post office, and it went to about 28 degrees,” he said.
In New Mexico. Hubbard was able to see a former cliff dwelling, where adobe houses were built in caves. The houses were built in the 1200s — “Some were quite sophisticated,” Hubbard said — but abandoned in the 1300s, for unknown reasons. According to Hubbard, it could have been because of climate changes, such as droughts, or because the people were driven out by other tribes.
“Here’s a whole civilization that when there’s climate change, abandoned,” he said.
Adverse weather was possibly the worst part of Hubbard’s trip. After going for about 35 days without having to don a rain jacket, he hit Stroudsburg, Pa.
“It poured buckets,” Hubbard said.
The rain soaked through his alpine ski gloves. Hubbard, who had a pre-existing condition where the cold would cause circulation problems in his hands and feet, went on for about 20 miles and climbed the “steepest hill of the trip,” before finding an environmental center, where he warmed up.
Aside from the elements, Hubbard never faced anything perilous.
“I never felt threatened. I never felt my life in danger,” he said.
Hubbard did, however, discuss bicycle safety — by which he meant a lack of road shoulder for bikes to use for travel.
In an e-mail update while on the road, Hubbard wrote, “... Route 11 entered Virginia. At the Tennessee/Virginia border, the shoulder disappeared (all of it!), but the heavy traffic remained. The shoulder never reappeared. ... So far, of the route I’ve traveled across our country, my route in Virginia ... feels the least safe (with only 1 previous exception) of all I’ve encountered.”
After returning home, with tired legs, Hubbard has not been back on the bike. He has, however, gone walking with friends and jogging.
This is by no means Hubbard’s first long-distance trip. He once walked more than 450 miles around Vermont, and he has walked both the Appalachian and Long trails. He lists two reasons for these long ventures: entertainment and exercise.
“I’ve always enjoyed the outdoors,” he said. “I’ve tried to make that a lifestyle.”
Hubbard said that easy, long distance exercise is also the best way to lose weight. His own weight loss supports this theory, going from about 185 pounds to about 160 pounds.
Hubbard already has his next trip in the works; and this time he won’t be alone. Howe, his “sweetie,” as he called her, and he will be heading out in September.
“We’re planning a three-week bike trip to southern France, Provence,” he said.